Updated: September 1, 2023
So, where is Kona coffee grown? As the name suggests, Kona coffee can only be produced in the Kona Coffee Belt on the Big Island of Hawaii. No other place on Earth has the unique combination of soil, elevation, and mild climate of the Kona District.
This is why the coffee grown in Kona carries so much value. Coffee that is 100% Kona makes up only 1% of the world’s total coffee production.
Kona Coffee History
Kona coffee is one of the most desired premium types of coffee available. Travelers from all over come to get a taste of what Hawaiians have known for years: that Kona coffee is the greatest in the world. Even Mark Twain raved about Kona coffee having a richer flavor than any other he had ever tasted.
Kona coffee has a storied history dating back over two centuries. It’s still considered quite rare, making it one of the most expensive types of coffee available anywhere in the world. Because of this, most retailers sell “Kona blends” with only about 10% authentic Kona in them.
In fact, before California recently started harvesting its own coffee, the Kona district after which this coffee is named was the only place that produced coffee in the United States.
Many things go into making Kona’s coffee unique, from the volcanic soil in which the beans are planted to the meticulous care that Kona farmers put into developing the trees themselves. The sheer depth of attention that goes into every drop is known to coffee connoisseurs worldwide.
We encourage our readers to try some authentic Kona coffee at Honolulu Coffee. The staff at Honolulu Coffee is knowledgeable about the history of Kona coffee and the process of producing and making it, from farm to cup. It’s a difference everyone can taste.
Find the best coffee that Kona and the Hawaiian Islands have to offer online at honolulucoffee.com!
Though Kona coffee is considered a Hawaiian staple, it didn’t technically originate in the rainbow state. Instead, a Brazilian experimenter named Don Francisco de Paula Marin was the first to bring Kona to Hawaii.
The coffee plant that would go on to become Kona was first planted in the Manoa Valley. However, the first attempt to plant coffee in Hawaii was unsuccessful. Thinking it was a doomed enterprise, Reverend Samuel Ruggles decided to take some plants to the north and south Kona district.
The Reverend’s persistence paid off. With the perfect weather to sprout coffee plants, the Kona district proved to be an ideal place for this coffee to grow, thus creating what we know today, as Kona coffee and laying the groundwork for its upward climb in the hallowed ranks of coffee fame.
Even so, it wasn’t a smooth road for coffee in the region. At the time, it paled in comparison to the thriving sugar industry (ironically, sugar is now rapidly declining on the islands while coffee is a top export). In the 1850s, bad care, poor weather, and pests led to a national shortage of Hawaiian coffee.
But Kona coffee would turn the page. Kona coffee first received mainstream recognition at the world’s fair in Vienna in 1873. Unfortunately, in 1899, the world coffee market crash took a toll on farms in the Kona coffee belt due to oversupply. This, again, made sugar the top priority.
In the early 1900s, however, World War I heightened demand for coffee as many soldiers were stationed in Hawaii.
But the subsequent World War is what really cemented Kona as a statewide treasure. As more talented farmers, particularly Japanese farmers, started cultivating these coffee plants, Kona became known as a specialty coffee unique to the island of Hawaii.
Today, Kona coffee is as valuable as ever before, with many varieties and blends to choose from, promising to tickle the taste buds of many generations to come.
Readers can purchase the finest 100% Kona coffee from Hawaii at Honolulu Coffee.
Kona Coffee Tree: Lifespan, Production, and More
The process of growing Kona coffee trees is labored and measured. Their seeds can be found inside the “cherry” of the tree (coffee is technically a fruit). The seeds are usually silver with an exterior layer known as the parchment.
The early stages of a Kona tree’s life in Hawaii are vital to its future success. Because of this, Kona coffee plants are often purchased as seedlings by capable farmers in Hawaii who can nurture the plant properly through its first few years. A healthy tree can produce valuable berries for over half a century.
Humid weather plays in the Kona district’s favor in terms of sprouting these trees. A healthy Kona tree will reach close to two feet tall by the time it is a year old and three to six feet tall by its third year, at which point they are considered mature.
The sign of a Kona tree’s reproduction is the sprouting of white blossoms that emerge from the plant. Locals refer to this as “Kona snow.” From this point, it takes about four months for cherries to emerge. After the better part of a year, the cherries will ripen and be used to make coffee.
But the labor doesn’t stop there. Kona is one of the most expensive types of coffee in the world because of the specific and careful attention it needs from farmers. That’s why we recommend Honolulu Coffee for those wanting an authentic, 100% Kona coffee experience.
Throughout its lifespan, the Kona plant requires annual maintenance such as pruning. Pruning refers to the process of removing dead and overgrown branches to stimulate growth for the following year. The first quarter of the year is traditionally when this process occurs.
Even when cherries begin to ripen, the meticulous cultivation of Kona coffee continues as the cherries need to be handpicked by harvesting experts. The best way to tell whether a cherry is good to pick is if it has a red glow to it.
Handpicking is the best method, as farmers don’t want to disturb cherries that haven’t ripened yet. Once the cherries’ sugars have converted to starch, processing can begin. But before we get into that, let’s take an even closer look at what makes Kona coffee so unique.
Why is Kona Considered the Hawaiian Coffee Region? (The Kona Coffee Belt)
The Kona Belt refers to the range of territory on the western coast of the Big Island where Kona coffee is farmed and harvested. Kona is cultivated in one of the most intriguing places in the world, on the slopes of two volcanoes: Hualalai and Mauna Loa.
Volcanic soil is full of essential minerals that add to the quality of Kona trees. On top of that, the Kona coffee belt has the perfect climate for maximizing the potential of Kona coffee farms, with tons of sunlight but often mild temperatures hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
These coffee trees are planted at a high altitude. Places with higher altitudes typically produce coffee with a mild taste of exceptional quality and smoothness.
Comparatively speaking, the area near Kailua Kona has a lower altitude than other major coffee hubs, but the fact that it is located much farther north of the equator than those other places makes up for the difference. The Kona coffee belt also gets a lot of rain, which is good for any plant.
Additional Information About Kona Coffee
Kona coffee even has its own festival on the island of Hawaii known as the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. The Kona coffee festival sees annual visitors from all the Hawaiian islands and the biggest names in the coffee industry.
The most common form of Kona originated in Guatemala and thrived in the mineral-rich volcanic soil found on the Big Island. It is called Kona Typica and is one of the two seeds found in a Kona coffee cherry.
A coffee brand cannot legally promote its coffee as Kona unless it was harvested in the Kona region. That means there are no knock-off brands of the coffee, only Kona blends and 100% Kona.
Coffee not only tastes good; it also provides several health benefits to a person’s body. The first is obvious and typically the first thing people think of when they think of coffee: the energy boost it provides.
But another thing that people may not realize is that coffee helps burn fat, boosting a person’s metabolic rate by 3-11%.
Info for Kona Coffee Growers
We talked earlier about the planting and harvesting processes of Kona trees. Now, let’s dig deeper into how cherries picked from these trees in the Kona coffee belt are processed into the Kona coffee beans that are craved by so many today.
Many Kona farms use what is known as the “wet method.” The wet method starts with the pulping phase. The selected cherries are put through a machine that washes and filters the beans. Beans that aren’t up to par are sent to what is called a pulper.
The purpose of a pulper is to remove the flesh from the fruit. This exposes the beans that are covered in mucilage, which is a sugary substance.
Next, we head over to the fermentation stage. If we’ve learned anything about Kona beans, it’s that nothing is easy. For the bean to fermentation, there needs to be a balance in mucilage levels. If not, the bean’s flavor will be adversely affected.
Mucilage is broken down naturally over the next couple of days before fermentation is finished. After this, beans are sent to the drying stage.
Drying must also be done very carefully. Machines are used to make sure that all beans are dried equally. Once dry, the beans are hulled, meaning the parchment is removed, exposing the Kona coffee bean that is ready for use.
There are four different stages in which Kona coffee farmers can sell their coffee trees. The first is at the cherry stage. This is the least profitable time to sell to buyers because, as we mentioned earlier, there is still a lot of harvesting and processing labor that needs to take place after that point.
Coffee farms that sell at the parchment, green, or roasted phases stand to make more money.
Typically, smaller family farms will sell their cherries to larger plantation owners who have expertise in Kona coffee cultivation. There are very few places that sell “estate grown” Kona coffee.
Hawaiian growers from coffee farms all get together at the Kona Coffee Council to trade, buy, and sell hand-picked cherries, beans, and anything else found on Hawaii coffee plantations.
What Does Kona Coffee Taste Like?
Now that the Hawaiian coffee beans are ready to roast, what can people expect Kona coffee to taste like? Residents and well-traveled visitors of the Big Island claim hints of milk chocolate, honey, brown sugar, and a fruity flavor found only in the rich volcanic soil of the Big Island.
It is very rich and bright but in all the right ways to satisfy even the snobbiest coffee critic. Coffee enthusiasts who enjoy a light cup of quality coffee will find great pleasure in this Kona district export.
Of course, the taste can vary depending on how this Hawaiian-grown coffee is roasted. Here’s a quick guide to help readers decide which kind of Kona roast is best for them.
First, we have the light roast. If one is not a fan of the “roast” flavor in coffee, then this is a great option. Per the name, a light-roasted Kona coffee is the brightest of the roasting options.
The island coffee gives off a faint flavor of strawberry, hazelnut, and brown sugar and is the smoothest of the Big Island roasts.
The most popular roast for Kona coffee among its consumers is the medium roast. The medium roast combines the Big Island flavors with the normal nutty flavor that coffee drinkers have come to relish.
Finally, we have dark roast. The dark roast has a flavor compared to a s’more, with hints of dark chocolate and graham cracker as well as hazelnut. No wonder Hawaii coffee has become world-renowned.
The Kona belt on the Big Island is one of the most unique but important places on Earth that propelled mass coffee production in Hawaii, bolstering the state’s economy at crucial points in history.
Those planning to visit Hawaii should make it a point to stop at Honolulu Coffee. A true farm-to-cup company, Honolulu Coffee sells authentic, 100% Kona coffee to locals and tourists alike.
The store owners also own and manage a Kona coffee farm on the slopes of the Mauna Loa near Kailua Kona on the Big Island. From selecting coffee seedlings and cultivating the right growing conditions to hand-picking the cherries to process, Honolulu Coffee is there every step of the way.
This is why the shop can produce quality coffee for customers around the world. The best Kona coffee beans come from coffee plantations that are managed with care by Hawaii residents.